Carpe Noctem

  • Orion Nebula M42, taken at the ASV. JACK NEWTON.

  • Jack and Alice Newton's house, with observatory, at Arizona Sky Village. ASV

  I pledge devotion to the stars of the majestic Milky Way Galaxy and to a dark night sky in which they shine; one cosmos, overhead, clearly visible, with liberty from light and dark skies for all.

-- Jack Troeger, Dark Sky Initiative

In 2001, Florida developer and amateur astronomer Gene Turner came to southeastern Arizona in search of “the new frontier.” He found it in a sky darker than any he had ever seen. Inspired, he promptly bought up 450 acres near the town of Portal to create an “astronomy community.”

Six years later, all 85 parcels in the Arizona Sky Village have been purchased, and many now boast custom homes with observatories. Construction is underway on 11 “interval ownership haciendas,” or time-share homes, complete with 14-inch computerized telescopes located in private open-air observation courtyards.

All exclusive communities have covenants, but the rules of the Arizona Sky Village reflect its unusual purpose: Curtains must be light-blocking, so that no light leaks out at night and only low wattage-bulbs “with full cut-off” (meaning that no light goes up) can be used outside at night.

According to Turner, the success of his venture stems from the first thing he did after seeing the property: He got on the phone with his friend Jack Newton, astrophotographer extraordinaire, whose images of the night sky have appeared in such prestigious publications as Astronomy Magazine, the German magazine Sterne und Weltraum and National Geographic.

Newton and his wife, Alice, had already started an astronomy community in Chiefland, Fla.– a village of stargazers that just “happened” because the Newtons were there with their telescopes. In fact, that’s how Turner met them in the first place; he was the second person to come to their door at Chiefland, eager to join the community.

From Arizona, Turner called Newton and said, “Jack, you’re in the wrong place.”

His rave about Portal convinced Newton to buy in. “It’s an extraordinary place, the location is second to none,” Turner rhapsodizes. “You’ve got 10,000-foot mountains coming down to desert, five of seven life zones, ponderosa to cactus. You’ve got the mountains blocking Tucson and Sierra Vista, you’ve got an extremely dry climate with no light domes.” (Water vapor reflects and disperses light.)

With Newton on board, Turner sold the rest of the parcels quickly. “It’s kinda like a golf course,” Turner says. “You get the right pro, in this case an astronomy pro, and people come to rub shoulders with him.”

The people who have bought property are “mostly biologists, retired writers and poets” between 50 and 70 years of age, according to Turner – many with an interest in horseback riding and bird-watching, and all with an enthusiasm for astronomy.

Turner’s own love for the night sky stems from the 1960s, the moon race and Carl Sagan’s books: “He presented space passionately, more emotionally, a little spiritual, less scientific. It touches something inside, looking at other galaxies up close and personal.”

At Arizona Sky Village, the stars do seem closer. The less the magnitude, the brighter the star, and at the village the less-bright stars -- those of the 7th magnitude -- are visible to the naked eye. With telescopes (ranging from 14 to 30 inches) you can get spectacular glimpses of such faraway beauties as the Orion Nebula. Some part-time residents – like the Newtons, who live six months of the year in Canada at their astronomy-themed bed and breakfast – keep any eye on Portal’s skies via computer-controlled cameras.

Just a few issues worry Turner, who insists he’s never leaving southeastern Arizona. There’s the lack of medical facilities, for one – with all its older residents, Portal could use a clinic with good cardiac care. Another issue – the relationship of the village with the neighboring community – seems to be resolving itself. “At first, there was quite a bit of anxiety over this ‘quote development unquote,’ ” says Turner. “I took quite a bit of heat. But I think now the community loves the people we have here. We sign up as EMTs, for example. Well… they probably still don’t like me, because land values went up about a thousand percent …

“We got lucky -- we got here first to preserve this dark sky.”
High Country News Classifieds
  • DEVELOPMENT AND OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
    Development & Operations Coordinator Terms: 1.0 FTE (full-time), Salary DOE ($45,000 - $55,000) Benefits: Paid Time Off (12-24 days/year depending on tenure), Paid Holidays (10/year),...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...